TETFund and Innov8 Birthing a new Nigeria with TETFAIR

Minister of Labour and Employment, Chief Simon Bako Lalong, cutting the tape  to declare "TETFAIR Showcase and Innovation Pitching" event open.  He is flanked by Executive Secretary  TETFund, Arch Sonny S.T. Echono (left), TETFund's (Public Affairs) Chief Research Officer, Dr Comfort Ukim (right), whilst Innov8 Hub General Manager, Mr Meir Dagan (behind the Minister) looks on with interest

Minister of Labour and Employment, Chief Simon Bako Lalong, cutting the tape to declare "TETFAIR Showcase and Innovation Pitching" event open. He is flanked by Executive Secretary TETFund, Arch Sonny S.T. Echono (left), TETFund's (Public Affairs) Chief Research Officer, Dr Comfort Ukim (right), whilst Innov8 Hub General Manager, Mr Meir Dagan (behind the Minister) looks on with interest

By Eniola Olakunri

“What is really the calculus of Innovation? The calculus of Innovation is really simple: Knowledge drives innovation, Innovation drives productivity and Productivity drives economic growth”

   -William Ralph Brody

      American Scientist

     (January 4, 1944 –

      Present Day) 

These words of the erudite Scientist William R. Brody, one time President(s) of the prestigious John Hopkins University and The Salk Institute, encapsulate the vision behind the collaboration of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and Innov8 in instituting the widely acclaimed TETFund Alliance for Innovative Research (TETFair) for the benefit of gifted individuals and organisations seeking to transform their ideas into inventions, inventions into solutions, and solutions into enterprises.

Like Brody, an Alumnus of popular Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), TETFund and Innov8 (a top-tier, Abuja based innovation-centric organisation), believe that Nigeria is replete with talents that can drive real economic growth, given the right encouragement, support and favourable environment, for their ideas to run full steam.     

Executive Secretary TETFund, Architect Sonny S.T. Echono (right) explaining a point of interest to The Minister of State for Education Dr Yusuf Sununu (middle)

On December 14, 2022, 71 brainiacs (broken into groups) from various universities across Nigeria, were chosen (after series of rigorous tests), and admitted to the Innov8 hub in Abuja, where they could make use of ultramodern facilities that would aid the development of their innovation prototypes for 12 months, at nil cost.

As a sweetener, the would-be inventors were also exposed to international mentorship for capacity enhancement by relevant industry experts, apart from being guided on how to patent their inventions in line with best global practices (Readers are enjoined to see this writer’s piece tagged “TETFair on The Cusp of Changing the Nigerian Story” published by the Leadership Newspapers on February 04, 2022, detailing the birth of TETFAIR).

The Fair, which for the first time, gives visible and tangible fillip to the Triple Helix Model (getting the Academia, Industry and the Government together as cooperating organs in accelerating the nation’s pace towards economic development and sustainable growth), is billed to bring lasting solutions to some of the myriad challenges facing the nation with home-grown inventions and perfected technologies.

Participants in a group photograph at the end of the closing ceremony

Viable economic ventures, job and wealth creation are the end products of the exercise with Nigerians, Nigeria, and the world at large, the ultimate beneficiaries of the ensuing, sustained productivity in goods, services and cutting edge technology, as outcomes of the highly rated TETFAIR.

In addition, the nation’s tertiary institutions would be better served with enhanced innovation techniques, ample development research, requisite skills, knowledge and abundant room for transforming ideas into concrete products.

The Class of 71, after a year-long boot camp at Innov8 hub, finally had the chance to unveil their inventions/products before World on December 7th, 2023 at the Innov8 Centre in Abuja.

The event tagged “TETFAIR Showcase and Innovation Pitching” which started off with much pomp, attracted government dignitaries, military top brass, various stakeholders in the education sector and other distinguished guests. They included the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chief Simon Bako Lalong, Minister of State for Education, Dr Yusuf Tanko Sununu, The House Committee Chairperson on Tertiary Education, Princess Mariam Odinaka Onuoha, NUC President, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, Tetfund’s Steersman, Architect Sonny S.T. Echono, amongst various other well-wishers.

Speaking at the occasion, and perhaps giving expression to the words of American inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison (February 11,1847 – October 18, 1931); “The value of an idea lies in the using of it”, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Bako Lalong noted that the Fair has proven to be a veritable plank on which academics and researchers have been able to hone, exhibit and transform their ideas into concrete solutions.

Some of the Inventors at the Fair

“These solutions have the potential to address pressing societal challenges, create job opportunities, and propel our nation towards sustainable development. I am confident that the invaluable experiences gained through this event will empower our scholars to contribute significantly to their fields and foster meaningful engagement at both national and international levels”

In his own remarks, Minister of State for Education, Dr Yusuf Sununu held that Nigerian researchers have begun to hold their own in various fields of human endeavour, alluding to their multifrontal quests at tackling the challenges confronting the nation and citing the developments of vaccines against communicable diseases  (Covid-19 and Lassa Fever) at Usmanu Danfodiyo University for emphasis. He also spoke on the need to ensure that the works of the researchers are adequately protected in order to stem the loss of copyright ownership.

The host of the event, TETFund Executive Secretary, Architect Sonny Echono, posited that the Agency’s decision to institutionalise research and innovation in the nation’s tertiary education space, was borne out of the need to address the multifaceted problems facing Nigeria.

He said TETFAIR is called to support national yearnings in “Agriculture and Food Technology, Environment, Energy & Sustainable Economy, Health and Accessibility, Information Communication Technology, Security, Transportation, Aviation & Shipping, and Streamlining/Enhancing Production Processes”

He went on “….In our bid to promote the institutionalisation of R&D, we have sought effective support for impactful research and innovation through partnerships between tertiary institutions, research institutes, industry and government as a national response towards technological revolution, human capital development and sustainable economic competitiveness”.

Air Commodore A.O. Kotun and Major-General Z.L. Abubakar represented the Nigerian Armed Forces at the event

In fact, in bringing home the comments of the Executive Secretary on the Triple Helix above, this writer witnessed first hand, an interesting encounter between an official of Government and members of Team 18 that developed a cost-effective paint thickener made with locally sourced bamboo cellulose.

Alhadji Abubakar Kollere, a Director of Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) had stopped by the stand of the Team comprising Professor Doris Fovwe Ogeleka, Dr Elias Emeka Elemike, Dr Chinedum Ogonna Mgbemena and Dr Akinyemi Olugbemi Ogunkeyede, all of Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun, near Warri, Delta State, where they had set up shop to showcase their invention billed to eradicate the dependence of paint manufacturers on expensive imported raw materials. The Team’s product is bound to boost the local economy, save Nigeria enormous foreign exchange, and also enhance the environment.

The unassuming and soft-spoken Kollere approached the Team and after pleasantries were exchanged, threw some technical questions at the group. After a series of exchanges, the Director appeared satisfied with the answers proffered.

In the end after being convinced of the inherent boons of their invention, Kollere offered to arrange an event where they could showcase their product to paint manufacturers and construction industry experts. Listening to that gladdens the heart of this writer to no end. It proves that the dream of TETFund and Innov8 hub in organising the Fair is really coming to life!

Team 18 is not resting on its oars. It has started exploring ways of turning plastic wastes (a major irritant all over the world), into paint!

Indeed there are too many cheering news coming from the Fair. For instance, Team 12, having discovered that close to 450 million people globally have been diagnosed with disabling hearing loss, knew they needed to do something about it. 140 million of those sufferers are based in Africa, and that was the impetus they needed to get to work.

House Committee Chairperson on Tertiary Education, Princess Mariam Odinaka Onuoha, addressing the audience at the event.

 They have since developed  “Chord Hearing Aid”, a self-programmable and very affordable hearing-assist tailored for the African market (and beyond), with huge foreign exchange potentials. In fact the Team was among the Top 3 selected to unfurl their invention at the Accelerate, Redesign, Collaborate (ARC), and the Centre for Digital Innovation Entrepreneurship Programme at Sheba Hospital in Israel some few months ago. Great things are indeed coming out of the TETFund/Innov8 Hub collaboration.

17 other inventions spanning agriculture, animal tracking, bird drone technology, medicine, textile, environment-friendly cooking systems, energy, and automobile technology were all displayed at the Fair for the benefit of investors, government and various stakeholders.

Two months ago, the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), Mrs Adegoke Orelope-Adefulire disclosed at the 29th edition of Nigeria Economic Summit (NES) that raising the requisite 10 billion dollars annually to finance SDG programmes is impossible given the parlous state of the Nigerian economy. According to her, putting together all the budgets of the States and Federal Government would not add up to 50 percent of the funds required for the programme.

Perhaps now it is time to rethink the Government strategy on SDG, which interestingly falls in line with the theme of a panel’s session at the Summit, christened “Half Point to 2030 : Rethinking The Strategy Towards Achieving The SDG’s”.

Taking advantage of Innov8 hub’s offerings by the Federal Government would no doubt be a win-win strategy for all stakeholders on the SDG front.

It is particularly disheartening that no country in Africa is among the top 10 leading countries in the world, controlling “90 percent of all global patents and 70 percent of all exports directly associated with Advanced Digital Production (ADP) technologies driving the 4th Industrial Revolution”, according to the Paris-based, ‘The Africa Report’ magazine; quoting a 2020 United Nations Industrial Development Organisation’s (UNIDO) study.

It is safe to conclude that the needle has not really moved in Africa’s favour since findings of that study was published 3 years ago.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. It is time to fully explore all that Innov8 can offer as a veritable way of stoking Nigeria’s rapid socio-economic turnaround and expeditious progress in today’s dynamic world.

Governance is a serious business and the nation cannot afford to wait any longer.

I will conclude this piece, echoing the words of renowned American Science Author and Media Theorist, Steven Berlin Johnson (1968 – Present Day). “If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect” These words have really proven true with the birthing of TETFund/Innov8 collaboration which has not only provided the enabling environment for the various Teams to thrive, but has also ensured their ideas/inventions resonate with mentors and investors, with the ultimate aim of getting their products to the marketplace.

TETFAIR is about to enter its second season, and we expect all the attendant, multifarious ‘goodies’ for the benefit of the nation to continue, even on a larger scale.

Once Government at the Federal and State levels start making conscious, critical, and full-on determination to embrace Innov8’s offerings and ideals, Nigeria could then be set on course to actually play in the knowledge-driven 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) that is now well upon us.

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– Olakunri, a public sector analyst writes from Abuja. Phone: 08033467676 (WhatsApp only) Email: eniolaolakunri@gmail.com

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